Friday, 6 July 2012

On library qualifications and career progression. Is it worth it?

Thing 10 asks us to consider qualifications that are relevant to the role of the librarian, including Master's qualifications and chartership. I have been putting off writing this post all week, thinking I'd feel very negative about the whole process, but actually I suspect my feelings are really a lot more mixed, and perhaps a lot more positive.

For me, the existence of Library Graduate Traineeships was an absolutely godsend. After I finished my undergrad degree I went on to train as a stage manager which required a PGDip and  months of lifting, carrying, climbing, shouting, consoling, crying and generally accruing the most impressive collection of bruises ever seen on a skinny girls legs. Yes, the theatre is all drama, on stage and off. I worked in theatre for three years altogether, and I loved many aspects of it, but it really wasn't long before I realised that I wouldn't be able to keep up the pace and meeting the workload with the statutory cheery disposition, so I started looking for another option.

It didn't take me long to start investigating being a librarian. My only search parameter for a new job was not being a teacher, but I wanted to work with books, and so being a librarian became an obvious choice. However, the thing I found online that made me really excited about the prospect, was all the information on the UWE website about the MSc Information and Library Management. It sounded great! Organising people, working in an environment that makes a really positive impact on its community, working with systems (yep, I'm one of those I'm afraid), and with the rapid technological developments librarianship seemed a dynamic and progressive field.

How to get into it though? I was searching late in the year, and so there weren't too many library traineeships about, but the idea sounded perfect - have a year to test the waters, meet other library trainees, learn a lot more about the profession and how I would fit into it, and then go on to the Master's if I wanted. I applied for the first traineeship that came up and I got it, and it was exactly what I needed. I met some absolutely fantastic people while I was there who are now amongst my closest friends, I learned loads, I still loved libraries at the end of it and I was enthused and ready to take on the Master's.

I do have one confession at this point - I was INCREDIBLY lucky, and was awarded a grant from AHRC to undertake the MSc at UWE. I could not of done the course without it (hell - I was still paying my career development loan off from the PGDip!) and had I not been awarded it I'm not sure where I would be now. Yes, that's me saying that my Master's was worth it. I gained my first professional post because I was doing the Master's course. Ok, the course was extremely broad, hardly touched on massive areas of librarianship like cataloguing and classification, and definitely overdid the management aspect BUT without it I couldn't have hoped to have the knowledge I needed to talk intelligently at interview about the challenges librarians face in integrating information literacy sessions in higher education, about the impact of online resources on traditional collection management, and the shifting nature of a university library's relationship with its students in a web 2.0 world. And you know what, geek that I am, I loved thinking and talking about this stuff!

Don't get me wrong. The Master's was a slog! Some modules I loved (unbelievably my favourite was the legal libraries module, even if a large part of it was devoted to discussing their imminent demise). Some modules were just painful, like research methods. But actually, as my undergrad degree was in English Literature with a focus on creative writing, I had never learned about researching in the social sciences and the different theories surrounding research methods, and knowing this has been invaluable now I find myself supporting a subject which has a heavy focus on quantitative research methods. And most importantly, I met some brilliant people who are now fantastic librarians and part of my professional network.

Ok, so I'll draw this very long post to a close now by saying that I don't have any substantial conclusions about the nature of the Master's and its ability to remain relevant in the profession going forward (and I don't have the energy to extend that thought to the relevance of chartership right now). But for me, the traineeship was exactly what I needed and was a fantastic introduction to the profession. The Master's was a mixed experience, but I learned so much, and I couldn't have moved on in my career without it. And so I'm forced to conclude that, for me, the master's was great, so I can only deplore the incredible expensive that causes problems for so many contemplating a Master's course, and hope that we can fight our inclination to be jaded about a qualification that actually, boring or no, has been fantastic for many and still has a place in career progression.


  1. Until I read your post, I'd forgotten that one of my main incentives for doing the Masters was to avoid doing PGCE and go into teaching. Also wish I'd undertaken a traineeship.

  2. I read your post and my immediate reaction was WOW! You got to study legal libraries and research methods - that so cool! Then I realised how that sounds...LOL! Fellow geek.